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Group Calls for Swift Action to Curb, Regulate Energy Speculators, 'Today's Enron Rogues'

Santa Monica, CA -- Congress and President Bush must take joint action against the speculators who have driven oil and gasoline prices past all-time records, said OilWatchdog.org, a project of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. Gasoline prices nationally are expected today to surpass last year's record of $3.227, and California, at $3.571 per gallon as calculated by AAA, is more than 7 cents a gallon over last year's record.
 
"There is no shortage of gasoline, no shortage of crude oil, no underlying market reason for these excruciating record prices," said Judy Dugan, research director of OilWatchdog and the nonprofit, nonpartisan FTCR. "Speculators and hedge funds, today's Enron rogues, are driving an economic disaster by pouring billions into bets on continually rising prices."

Oil today spiked to more than $107.00 a barrel, though the U.S. dollar stabilized in value against other currencies including the Euro. A weak dollar, in any case, is not nearly reason enough for spot oil prices to be more than double last year's January low of just above $51 a barrel, said OilWatchdog. Last March, as gasoline prices started spiking to their previous record, oil was still under $60 a barrel.

Click here to see historical oil prices.

"With gasoline prices averaging more than a penny-a-day increase, prices of $4.00 a gallon are popping up across California and other states can see their future in what is happening there,” said Dugan. "Yet President Bush said earlier this month he hadn't even heard about predictions of $4.00 gasoline, and Congress seems to be hiding its head in the sand. Energy prices should also be atop the issues for the presidential candidates, but the oil lobby's clout suffocates even that debate."

Either the White House or Congress should initiate hearings on and investigations of unregulated energy trading markets, where manipulation of large trades can drive up prices on all markets, said OilWatchdog. A proposal to put some modest oversight and regulation on U.S. trades in the unregulated markets passed the Senate last December but it was folded into the federal farm bill, which is stuck in unrelated disputes over the funding of farm subsidies.
 
"The electronic energy trading markets, including the InterContinental Exchange, are exempt from all regulation because of what's called the 'Enron Loophole'," said Dugan. "The same energy bandits who nearly turned out the lights in California in 2000 pushed aside federal regulation that could have spotted manipulation and curbed this year's disastrous price spike. Government is still asleep at the wheel."

Oil refineries have also been cutting back production, which spikes gasoline prices independent of oil prices. Families are running up credit card debt just to buy gasoline and the economy is battered from both sides by energy-caused inflation and recession, said FTCR.
 
The beneficiaries of this, aside from the speculators, are oil companies and foreign oil producers reaping record profits, said FTCR.
 
FTCR and OilWatchdog call for:

- Swift action to close the Enron Loophole in commody trading regulation. The measure that is stuck in the farm bill should be passed again as a separate bill (S.2058 by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin) to help stop speculative pricing. (Click here to see more on Enron Loophole and farm bill amendment.)

- Senate approval of an alternative fuels bill funded by withdrawing $1.8 billion a year in unjustified taxpayer subsidies to oil companies. This measure, passed by the House last week, faces an uncertain future in the Senate. A similar House measure was removed from the federal energy bill by the Senate last year under pressure from the oil lobby. (Click here to see text of HR 5351.)

- Statements of intent by the presidential candidates. Today’s presidential candidates must do more than make disapproving noises about today’s energy crisis, said OilWatchdog. They must let voters know how they plan to keep the oil lobby out of the White House and stop this from happening again.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a non-profit, non-partisan organization.

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